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Russia No. 4 on Billionaire List

Published: March 4, 2003 (Issue # 848)



  • Khodorkovsky
    Photo: The St. Petersburg Times

MOSCOW - Russia's per capita GDP may be dragging behind Costa Rica's, but its head count of billionaires is the fourth highest in the world, according to Forbes magazine's annual rating of the super rich, released late last week.

The list of the country's billionaires burgeoned to 17 over the past year - 10 more than in 2002 - thanks to high oil prices, a growing stock market and greater corporate transparency.

For a second year in a row, Russia's richest men have managed to buck the trend of shrinking fortunes. Worldwide, the number of billionaires year on year fell from 497 to 476 and their combined wealth from $1.54 trillion to $1.4 trillion. Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, steadily No. 1 on the Forbes list since 1998, ended up $12.1 billion poorer than the year before, his worth dropping to $40.7 billion.

All but five of Russia's billionaires are heavily involved in the oil sector.

The strongest showing was by Yukos, whose top executive Mikhail Khodorkovsky retained his title as Russia's richest man and shot up from his No. 101 spot last year to No. 26. Khodorkovsky's estimated worth more than doubled - from $3.7 billion to $8 billion.

Of the 10 new tycoons on this year's list, five earned their riches at Yukos or affiliated banking and insurance conglomerate Menatep.

Khodorkovsky, who says that he owns 6 percent to 7 percent of the company, attributed the jump in his fortune to Yukos' growing capitalization.

"These are the same shares of the same company," Interfax quoted him as saying.

"The fact that it is becoming worth more means that our work has been a success. The fact that a lot of oil executives made it onto the list means that our oil sector is the most public and open. I think that my fellow businessmen from other sectors still have the journey toward financial transparency ahead of them."

Stephen O'Sullivan, head of research at United Financial Group, said that one big reason for the rising number of Russian billionaires is greater disclosure.

"Most people have taken the view that Mr. Khodorkovsky owns Yukos and now we know that he does. But many other people have large stakes as well," O'Sullivan said Friday. "People we didn't know about last year, we now know about."

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